The Mentawai People
Siberut is home to the Mentawai tribe of approximately 30,000 people. It is believed people first came to inhabit these islands at least several thousand years ago. This Mentawai tribe still maintains the lifestyle and traditions passed down from their ancestors and is a rare Indonesian culture that has not been influenced by Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim currents over the last two millenniums. If the mentawai culture disappears, going with it will be one of the last links to Indonesia’s early human inhabitants.
The Mentawai people are characterised by their heavy spirituality, their distinctive tradition to sharpen their teeth – a unique and fascinating practice they feel makes one beautiful –and their frequently tattooed bodies, with the most famous being the tattoos of the Sikeiries.
Shamans, or Sikeireis, feature prominently in Mentawai society. The Mentawai people subscribe to Jarayak, a form of animism that stresses the existence of nature spirits, souls and ghosts. The nature spirits are those of the sky, the earth, the sea, and the jungle. There is also the grandfather, the god of earthquakes. They believe people have souls, and so do all animals and plants.